Animal Trainers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

For high school students interested in becoming an animal trainer, courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, and psychology will be helpful. Understanding how the body and mind work helps a trainer understand the best methods for training. Knowledge of psychology will help the trainer recognize behaviors in the animals they train as well as in the people for whom the animals are helping.

Postsecondary Training

Some animal trainer specialties have educational requirements that include a college degree. Animal trainers in circuses and the entertainment field may be required to have some education in animal psychology in addition to their caretaking experience. Zoo and aquarium animal trainers usually must have a bachelor's degree in biology, marine biology, animal science, psychology, or another field related to animal management or animal physiology. Trainers of companion dogs prepare for their work in a three-year course of study at schools that train dogs and instruct the disabled owner-companion.

Most trainers begin their careers as keepers and gain on-the-job experience in evaluating the disposition, intelligence, and "trainability" of the animals they look after. At the same time, they learn to make friends with their charges, develop a rapport with them, and gain their confidence. The caretaking experience is an important building block in the education and success of an animal trainer. Although previous training experience may give job applicants an advantage in being hired, they still will be expected to spend time caring for the animals before advancing to a trainer position.

Establishments that hire trainers often require previous animal-keeping or equestrian experience, as proper care and feeding of animals is an essential part of a trainer's responsibilities. These positions serve as informal apprenticeships. The assistant may get to help an animal trainer on certain tasks but will be able to watch and learn from other tasks being performed around him or her. For example, racehorse trainers often begin as jockeys or grooms in training stables.

Other Education or Training

Continuing education opportunities are provided by the Animal Behavior Society, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Outstanding Pet Care Learning Center, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, International Association of Canine Professionals, National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Voluntary certification is provided by a variety of organizations, including the the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the International Association of Canine Professionals, and the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors.

Racehorse trainers must be licensed by the state in which they work. Otherwise, there are no special certifications or licenses required for this occupation.

Marine mammal trainers must be certified in SCUBA.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience providing care or training to animals will be useful for aspiring animal trainers.

Prospective animal trainers should like and respect animals and have a genuine interest in working with them. With most of the career options for an animal trainer, there is an underlying desire to help people as well. Most trained animals work with people to accomplish a goal, so the relationship between the animal, the trainer, and the owner or companion is an important one. It requires the trainer to be thoughtful, sensitive, and well spoken. Also, the trainer should be prepared to work intensely with an animal and then have that animal go on to work somewhere else. The relationship with the trained animal may not be permanent, so separation is part of the trainer's job.